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Finding Cruise Deals

Cruise deals are out there and not too hard to find, but snagging a good one depends on a number of factors, including your desired destination, when you plan to travel, and your accommodation criteria. USA Today reports that online travel agencies that deal specifically with cruises have no way to undercut cruise lines' set prices, so they offer pricing no lower than the cruise lines themselves.

The discounts to be found come from the cruise lines, and typically they're early or last-minute cruise deals.

Carnival, for example, offers many cruises between $25 and $75 a day. Even better is the cruise line's Early Saver program: Booking early can save you 20 percent on your desired cruise. If the price drops below what you pay initially, the cruise line will compensate you. Norwegian Cruise Line offers last-minute cruise deals on its website. When we looked recently, prices started at roughly $75 per day for both Bermuda and Alaskan cruises. Over at Royal Caribbean, a three-day Bahamas cruise departing in a week and a half was down to just $56 per day.

If you don't see any standout deals from the popular cruise lines, there are travel agency websites designed for comparison shopping. These sites occasionally throw in additional perks such as credits that can be used for additional purchases on-board the ship. For example, Cruise.com offers upward of $300 in on-board credit for select Costa cruises. Other websites that offer similar promotions -- and good cruise deals in general -- include LastMinuteCruises.com and CruiseDeals.com. We found a six-night Western Caribbean cruise departing in 13 days for $389 ($65 per night) through Last Minute Cruises. Cruise Deals has a Top Deals section where several Caribbean cruises were listed starting at around $50 per night -- and they weren't so last-minute. Many were departing in a month to three months to provide additional time to arrange a trip.

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Other good websites for cruise comparison include Orbitz, where we saw $400 in on-board credit with select cruises, and Expedia, which was running a seven-night Caribbean cruise deal for $64 a night and a $200 on-board credit. Top Ten Reviews gives Orbitz two thumbs up for easy navigation and a handy keyword search option but notes that some users feel the customer service needs improvement. Consumers reviewing travel websites on Trustpilot report some negative experiences with the customer service at Expedia, but many more reviewers call it their go-to site for easily booking and comparing cheap travel. Travelocity, Cruise One, and Vacations To Go are also worth checking for cruise deals.

A lot comes down to when you book. In this category, there's no single time of year when prices tend to be lowest; it depends on where you want to cruise. There is much debate among experts on whether it's better to book early or last minute. Online cruise guide Cruise Mates recommends booking early if you're looking for a specific ship, sailing date, or accommodations. If you wait until the last minute, you have to be flexible. On the other hand, news and review site Cruise Critic advises consumers to book early if at all possible. The logic is that you can't count on cruise deals to continue to be available or get better, so if you find a good one, get it now. If the price drops later, the cruise line may adjust the rate for you (as with Carnival) or upgrade your accommodations. It also helps to know the value months for the destination you're seeking. For example, hurricane season in the Caribbean generally runs from the beginning of June through the end of November, so prices may be lower during this time -- although that does mean an increased risk of inclement weather.

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